Family in Gardner, Kansas, fights to stay together

Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 10:40 PM CDT
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GARDNER, Kan. (KCTV) – John and Nicole DeHaven are bracing for heartbreak. Every day is a fight for the Gardner couple. Any day, the state could take away the little girl they’ve been trying to adopt for the last three years. It’s a heartbreaking journey that began shortly after their marriage in 2015.

“We always knew we wanted to be parents,” said John DeHaven.

“For me, I never wanted just one child,” said Nicole DeHaven.

But, with Nikki’s health issues, getting pregnant was too risky.

“So I said, ‘I know how to be a parent. Let’s go get licensed to be foster parents,” said John.

So, they did. The couple became the very first foster family for Cornerstones of Care. Before they knew it, John and Nikki welcomed little Jimena into their home at just three days old. Then shortly after, 6-day-old Uriah.

“We’ve been a family since,” said John.

As the kids grew, so did their bond. Once parental rights were terminated for both kids, the DeHavens began the adoption process.

“One of the things that was kind of an exciting idea was, ‘What if we could have them adopted the same day?’” said Nicole.

Riah officially became their son Oct. 5, 2021. Jimena’s adoption seemed to take longer.

“Then it was clear. Like, well, her case isn’t progressing but his is. Maybe we’ll at least get her finalized by the spring,” said Nikki.

Spring came, then summer, fall and winter. Then two years later, a crushing blow.

“We were told that we would never be considered an option. We will not be considered and we’re not going to be in the future,” said Nikki.

Denied. Because Jimena has three other biological siblings in foster care, whom she’s never met. The DeHavens were told they needed to take all or none of the children. Otherwise, the state would place Jimena, together with her siblings in a brand new home.

“I mean we’re three years into this. You can’t at this point. You need to say, ‘OK, we should have done this differently,’” said Nikki.

KCTV5 contacted Cornerstones for Care. We were told that, for privacy reasons, the case could not be discussed. Instead, we were provided with the policy on keeping siblings together.

The statement from President and CEO Meredith Rose reads, in part: “Siblings who are kept together frequently have better outcomes. DCF Policy 5237, relative to Sibling Placement and Connections, states that Cornerstones of Care is obligated to make every effort to have siblings achieve permanency together and place siblings in separate homes only in “extreme circumstances.”

The full statement is here:

“This is the only family since birth, this is the only family this little girl has lived with,” said Kansas State Senator Molly Baumgardner.

Baumgardner represents District 37 and she is also chair of the state’s Child Welfare Committee, a new oversight committee created by Kansas law to monitor the foster care system.

“They followed every step of the way of what’s been asked of them and what’s been required of them,” said Senator Baumgardner. “She could have and should have been adopted and been finalized in the early part of February 2021.”

The senator also told KCTV5 the DeHavens are not alone.

“We’ve seen significant loss in the number of Kansas families willing to participate as foster parents,” said Baumgardner.

According DCCCA, a foster care agency who testified in front of the legislature, Kansas has 2,448 foster families statewide. Since May of 2020, the number of foster families has seen a net decrease of 487.

“So, we’ve lost about 20% and we continue to hear from families they will not be foster parents again because of how they feel like they’re being treated,” said Baumgardner.

The Kansas child welfare system is a private system. The Department for Children and Families works with five contractors, Cornerstones for Care being one of them. It is a system plagued with problems. KCTV5 has exposed many through our reporting and a recent legal settlement with DCF found the state falls short when it comes to placement of kids.

According to the report from the McIntyre Settlement, there were 69 episodes of failure to place 53 children for fiscal year 2021.

“Cornerstones of Care has the worst record as far as children that are custody of the state, spending nights in offices,” said Baumgardner.

It’s one of many reasons why the Child Welfare Committee was formed in the first place.

“There are significant problems with our foster care system,” said Baumgardner. “We continue to hear some misrepresentation from organizations that are contracted by the state to provide those foster care services.”

As a result, it’s families like the DeHavens that stand to lose.

“The pain our daughter is going to go through, the loss that she’s going to go through, the abandonment that she’s going to go through keeps me up at night. I am terrified,” said John.

Even more terrifying for Jimena. She will be torn away from the only family she’s ever known to live with complete strangers.

“I’m fighting. I’m fighting as hard as I can for her, because it’s so hard to know I can’t protect her, you know? And, that’s what our job is supposed to do,” said Nikki. “And, I’m fighting for our son who’s possibly going to lose his sister. It’s mind-blowing that people would choose that when they don’t have to.”

The DeHavens have hired an attorney to fight the case. They have also contacted the Division of the Child Advocate. The investigation is ongoing.

The couple also continues to work with Senator Baumgardner, who is working with the DCF.

KCTV5 contacted DCF. We were told specific cases cannot be discussed.